Washington State University
Professor: Jeff Sanders
Course Description and Goals
The Columbia Plateau is a significant geologic, geographic, and social region encompassing large portions of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and Idaho. One of its defining features, the Columbia River drainage system, further connects the region to southwestern Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. Through its history, the Greater Columbia Plateau has experienced dramatic environmental, social, and cultural transformations. In this course we will explore two fundamental aspects of Columbia Plateau history: the nature of human interactions and the relationship between humans and the environment. Human interactions include migrations, the treatment of indigenous peoples, militarization, trans-national relations, the struggle between labor and capital, and the politics of inclusion and exclusion. Among the human-environmental relations we will emphasize are environmental degradation and rehabilitation, the perception and construction of (sometimes contending) cultural landscapes and senses of place, industrial agriculture, tourism, and water development.
This fall you will begin participation in a year-long hybrid seminar for graduate and undergraduate students that will explore the cultures and the environments of the Greater Columbia Plateau from multiple disciplinary points of view. We will begin by discussing different theories and methods for understanding regions and places before focusing on and developing the main subject areas for this first year: Plateau Cultural Landscapes, Making the Plateau Bloom, and the Atomic Plateau. During each three to four week period we will focus on readings related to these subject areas. We will have guests from various departments within the university (Sociology, English, Engineering, etc.) introduce their approaches to the region. We will make field trips to important sites (Walla Walla, Grand Coulee, and Hanford) for study and documentation. We will invite visiting scholars from outside the university to speak.
By the last weeks of this fall seminar and leading into the spring, we will begin to consider in more concrete ways how to organize a multi-tiered digital archive that includes the processing of Columbia Plateau-related collections within the WSU Manuscripts and Special Collections and ultimately the creation of a website that highlights these collections as well as the work that WSU faculty and students are doing and which is related to the Columbia Plateau. The spring seminar will therefore build on the expertise and understandings that we develop in the fall. By spring we will begin to put those understandings into action as part of a lasting project that will serve the general public and the WSU community for years to come.